VALDOSTA -- When Valdosta State's football team has needed a big game, it seems Ouachita Baptist has been around.

And do the Blazers need a big game tonight in Arkadelphia, Ark. The Gulf South Conference opener for both teams kicks off at 8 p.m. Eastern (radio: 107.9 FM).

"Everybody's down, and we've got to put the Albany State game (a last minute, 24-22 loss) behind us," said VSU head coach Chris Hatcher. "But we played hard, and that's all I've asked of them. We just didn't execute like we needed to."

The Tigers have been an improving program since head coach Todd Knight returned to his alma mater in 1999. OBU has played .500 football the last two seasons, finishing just outside the top programs in the Gulf South.

But when OBU and VSU have met, the Blazers have made quick work of the Tigers. The Blazers posted 49-plus points in the first three meetings, and had a 35-7 lead in last year's 42-21 win in Valdosta.

"We've beaten them handily every time we've played them. But everybody else who plays them plays it awfully close," said Hatcher. "We've jumped on them early and never really played a true Ouachita team. I hope we don't start this year."

Dusty Bonner became the second Blazer to throw seven touchdowns in a game (2000) against Ouachita Baptist, and Aaron Jenkins scored five touchdowns (three in one quarter) the next season.

Last year's win was Hatcher's 41st at VSU, setting a school record. And Hatcher was the first Blazer to throw for seven touchdowns 10 years ago, against Knight's Delta State team.

Both teams are coming off a loss. Ouachita Baptist lost at Division I-AA's Sam Houston State, 60-7. OBU gave up 596 total yards and two blocked punts for touchdowns.

"They're going to try and pound the ball (with running back Josh Holcomb) and throw the quick pass (with Chris Lammers)," Hatcher said. "Their defense will show multiple looks.

"But it's hard to say. It looked like they were outmanned against Sam Houston State. That's very easy to do when you step up a division."

The Blazers will leave two defensive starters at home, both recovering from MCL injuries suffered in the Albany State loss. Middle linebacker Cody Thomas and cornerback Antwan Harris are out, as is backup offensive lineman Richard Collier (ankle).

"I expect us to come out fighting," Hatcher said. "I just hope we execute better."

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